Thailand Seeks to Ban Recreational Cannabis

by Oliver Callaghan

Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalise cannabis in 2022. However a lack of regulation and health concerns have sparked backlash, with officials stating that recreational cannabis will be prohibited once again by the end of the year. Will a new framework banning recreational use help or hinder the cannabis industry in Thailand?

The Context to Cannabis in Thailand

Thailand’s decision to decriminalise cannabis in 2022 marked a historical shift in drug policy in Asia. The policy resulted in a massive surge of income from the tourism industry shortly after, resulting in a cannabis industry worth 28 billion Thai Baht (£623.5 million) within the first year. 

More than 6,000 dispensaries have since been established, yet the Bhumjaithai party responsible for the decriminalisation bill argued that this policy was never meant to permit recreational consumption but to ease overcrowding and reduce punitive charges in prisons. 

The original decriminalisation bill limited THC levels to 0.2%, yet it is likely that many dispensaries have sold products above this threshold to stand out from the competition and appeal to tourists. 

While many business owners and farmers have benefited greatly from the Netherlands-esk form of consumerism, others have been worried about the culture shock this policy presented and how a precarious legal framework could have harmed confidence regarding the cannabis market’s future in Thailand.

Culture Shock in Thailand

A lack of regulation and lax enforcement on dispensary applications has resulted in an almost entirely unregulated market in Thailand. The Health Ministry reported that since decriminalisation, there has been an increase in cannabis related psychological incidents from 37,000 to 63,000 between 2022 and 2023. 

Reports of violence and drug abuse among young people have also been blamed as a consequence of decriminalisation. This culminated in every party running in the 2023 election campaigning for the availability of cannabis to be modified for medicinal purposes only. 

The coalition government argued that the health concerns of cannabis justify its status as a controlled substance, and are proposing fines of up to 60,000 Thai baht (£1325) and/or up to one year prison sentence for those caught using the drug recreationally. 

While this is a significant step back for drug policy reform in the country, these fines pale in comparison to previous punishments for drug possession in Thailand. Possession of cannabis before decriminalisation could be met with up to a ten year prison sentence, served in prisons made infamous for their overcrowding issues. 

Main Proposals of the Bill

The draft bill will aim to deliver more stringent policies relating to the marketing and sale of cannabis products. Therefore, it is likely that businesses will be required to obtain more data about their customers and demand ID before purchase. As well as this, it is likely that the more conspicuous forms of distribution such as vending machines, discounts, and cannabis related marketing will be prohibited or rolled back considerably to reduce the influence on young people. There has been no clarification on whether medicinal cannabis patients will be required to obtain a medical certificate currently.

In the meantime, dispensaries will remain open in Thailand. However, smoking cannabis in public is not permitted. Creating a “public nuisance”, a term which many have argued is ambiguous, could land a fine of 25,000 baht (£550).

Dispensaries are unlikely to lose their licences, but they will likely need to alter their product line to adhere to stricter guidelines made to discourage recreational use. This will mean that edibles, extracts, and cannabis accessories that were previously sold will likely no longer be permitted in stores.


A number of growers and drug policy advocates in the country have expressed their discontent at the severity of the reaction by the government, arguing that this measure will curb entrepreneurism and significantly affect the bottom line of the tourism industry in Thailand. 

When speaking to CNN, cannabis entrepreneur and advocate Kitty Chopaka stated this bill was unexpected and excessive, but stated:

“…no matter what happens with the incoming cannabis regulations, it is now too late for cannabis to go back to being classified as narcotics.” Kitty Chopaka to CNN

However, not all business owners are as concerned with this bill. Nadon Chaichareon told Business of Cannabis that dispensaries that were previously following the government procedures on cannabis should not be concerned, and that it is those that were operating outside of the guidelines that will have to change their business practices to adapt to the new framework.


This issue demonstrates the complexity of drug policy, and the importance of rigorous planning before enacting drastic drug policy initiatives. While the decriminalisation of cannabis was a huge step forward for the Asian market, it is likely that poor preparation, ambiguous loopholes, and a lack of foresight by officials left the country in a state of hyper-consumerism which was not prepared for the culture shock which tends to accompany cannabis booms. 

Although decriminalisation can ease many issues associated with prohibition, it is not a silver bullet and can often run into undesirable side effects. 

The Netherlands has also experienced some of the issues associated with decriminalisation. Organised crime and concerns over the quality of cannabis has resulted in the development of a pilot which aims to gradually legalise cannabis and regulate the production and distribution to government approved cultivators. You can read more about this pilot here.

The Czech Republic is another country which has been wrestling with which form of cannabis regulation to implement. While many Czechs believe the rollout of a regulated and legal cannabis market is the best solution, proponents to this bill have interjected and insisted on legalisation without a regulated market. This form of legal framework could lead to a similar form of drug policy to Thailand or the Netherlands, in which a grey area forms that solves one problem while introducing another. You can find our coverage of the Czech legalisation issue here.

We are currently in a time of experimentation regarding drug policy. Many countries are testing new solutions to this problem through a range of methods. While no solution is perfect, it is clear that cohesive drug policy relies on thorough planning and communication between a network of collaborative bodies to succeed. 

This piece was written by Oliver Callaghan. X @Oliver1331556

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